Sonya stared at the dance floor and wondered for the hundredth time why she’d come to watch two more happy people tie the knot. Tazz and Kristen made a sweet couple, though, so she guessed that was the answer.
She’d never seen Tazz as he’d been today. He didn’t even look like himself. Over the years she’d seen the guy smile a few times, but never a real, honest one—more of a smirk. Today he’d never stopped smiling—except to say his vows in a voice that left little doubt he’d honor them until the day he died. Probably beyond, too.
The big Texan and his Latina bride were nowhere in sight, but Tazz had stayed longer than she would have guessed. All the other wedding guests were still in full swing. Even Daren Scott, with his new bride Kylie, danced to the crazy western beat. Mac and Mandy were slow dancing, but so into each other she doubted Tazz’s sister even knew her brother had left for his honeymoon.
“You look bored.”
She turned at the sound of Tazz’s voice, startled to see him and Ace standing behind her. People rarely caught her by surprise or managed to sneak up on her. They all just had.
“I’m not. What’s up?” she asked, watching Ace pull out a chair and sit down. Tazz followed him, taking one across from her.
“You could have fooled me,” Tazz grumbled. “You meet with Chung?”
“Smart ass,” Ace said but there was no heat in it.
“Yeah, he and his daughter,” she said when both men simply stared at her. “Why?” she asked. Ace watched her closely, but the former SEAL did that to everyone. She had no idea if he knew what the Sentinel drug had done to them beyond making them into some stupid fast and incredibly strong agents. Six months ago. Now she hoped the drug—and the darker side effects—would soon be gone from her system. Chung had already assured her without taking the assigned dosage, the drug had stopped changing her DNA.
She wasn’t so certain about that. It was June, and she still felt certain the drug had her by the throat.
Tazz exhaled wearily. “I just hoped you got a chance to talk to Kylie, that’s all. I know I was glad to know the DNA shit isn’t permanent.”
“Yeah, me too.” She scanned the area. No one was paying them any attention, but she didn’t want to be overheard all the same.
“Why the hell you two took that is beyond me,” Ace muttered, but leaned forward and set a key ring down on the white tablecloth. “But you did. Now you need to get yourself squared away, Petrok,” he said.
“Ace is offering a place to do that,” Tazz said when she didn’t immediately ask what the key was all about.
“It’s a good place, quite a ways up in the mountains. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but I think you’ll like it,” Ace added.
“You’re stressed out, Petrok. Chung said that you need time to get off the drug. Up there you’ll have nothing but time,” Tazz said, sounding so reasonable that she blinked.
“Is that so? And how far is quite a ways up there?” she asked, confused for the first time in a long time. Ace was always trying to take care of everyone, but that wasn’t Tazz’s MO—plus Ace usually didn’t include her in that motherly crap.
“It’s up there like in a few hundred miles from here,” Ace grumbled. “White River Mountains, way the hell off the map, so you’ll have time to get straight and not worry over anyone finding you. I’ve gotten you an SUV with a navigation system set up with the coordinates. Lacy even got you a friend for the long drive, an Aussie pup named Blue.”
She stared from him to Tazz, feeling her composure crack. The Chung drug was still in her system, and it wasn’t a matter of ‘getting off the drug’ for her. Tazz knew that. He had battled the same side effects she had—the hard, driving sexual needs—but now, maybe he didn’t need to, not with his new bride. She, on the other hand, was single and unless she wanted to go hunt up the bar for a nameless quickie, she would go home alone and she’d suffer for it.
“And you think me going up in the mountains to some cabin is going to help?” she clarified. “The drug may not be permanent but it’s not a piece of cake to get off—and alone. In the woods I’d do this easier? How is that?” she demanded, directing the last right at Tazz.
They both nodded—Tazz with a wince and a shrug, Ace with just one quick nod.
“It will keep you busy,” Ace said. “You can hike, climb, run, hell…do whatever and do it alone so you don’t get even more mixed up.”
“Chung said it’s easier alone, didn’t he?” Tazz asked.
She snorted at that and gave his ring a pointed glance “You tell me. You’re the one that’s married now.”
“Look, it’s not perfect, but I for one believe Chung—and Kylie. They both assured me it’s fixable. The fast healing, the speed and power, all of it,” he said, meeting her eye, “will fade until you’re back to your normal, better-than-everyone self.”
“Better than everyone, huh?” she asked, but for all her arguing, the offer was tempting. She glanced over at Ace and narrowed her eyes. “And a puppy?”
“An Aussie cattle pup,” Ace said then laughed. “She said it did the trick for her, and you might like a companion.”
She sat back in her chair and stared at Ace. The hard plains of his face hadn’t softened as much as they’d eased since he’d found his wife, Lacy, and married her a few years back. He wasn’t softer, that was for certain, but he was serious with the offer.
It was a good offer, too. It’d been six months since the drug and six months since she’d double-crossed Eric Walters in the hopes that Tazz would kill him.
Tazz hadn’t done that. Instead he’d wounded him and now the man was on the loose—and hunting for her and for Tazz. He wanted them both dead, and if he could do it, he wanted that privilege himself.
The ex-SEAL was insane, but he might get close enough to try, especially with the way the drug screwed her up. She found herself drifting off more and more often, simply not aware of her surroundings for minutes at a time. Then, with a whoosh, the world resurfaced. If she did that while Walters was near, she’d be dead—or worse.
She exhaled heavily and switched her gaze from Ace and Tazz to the room around her. The white tablecloth with the beautiful flower arrangement sprinkled with small bits of confetti really did add a touch of fun to the otherwise elegant affair. She’d felt like she’d walked into a fairy princess palace when she’d crossed the threshold. She’d been surprised by the tastefully done tables and the spirit of fun the couple had given the party. Relaxed, but why not? Every man in the room was probably packing and more men were guarding the five acre resort in shifts she knew Tazz had overseen himself. If anyone needed a break, it was Tazz.
“Petrok, it’s a good offer. Let it go. Get your ass straight, and let someone else haul Eric Walters in,” Ace growled as if reading her mind.
“Is that what you’re doing, Tazz? Letting someone else handle it?”
Tazz speared her with a deep frown, but he nodded. “I’ll step in if they fuck it up, but I’m not risking Kris’ happiness for the bastard. I tried to do the job, Petrok. I missed.”
“You didn’t miss. He’s marked now, but I’m guessing pissed off more than ever. They’ve gotten no lead on him—”
“If he does break free,” Ace said, “from the noose coming for him, you’re all set up there. I have the cabin hooked up and it’s tight. Even if you stay the winter, you’ll be fine.” He shrugged and sat back, folding his arms over his big chest. “Just take it.”
The arrogance of men always amazed her. She was tough. More than tough, she was one of the best in her line of work. If she’d not been, the Sentinels would never have recruited her. Sucked, but it was true. These guys had homes they were hoping to make theirs for the rest of their lives. She had none of that. If Walters wanted a war, she should kill him before he even got the chance to think about finding her.
“I’ll think on it. Thank you,” she said, glancing back up at them. “It’s a good offer,” she added because they both opened their mouths, ready to argue.
“No thinking on it. Hell no.” Tazz stood and pulled at her chair, forcing her to stand. “I know you and I know how you work. Enough of the Lone Ranger bullshit. Just get your ass up there and let someone pay you back for once, would you?”
“Pay me back?” she asked, confused all over again.
“We have it all ready for you now. Knowing you, if you think on it, you’ll think yourself into going after Walters alone,” Ace said, standing as well. “And payback for the times you’ve saved our ass, girl. What do you think?”
“It’s all set. We knew you’d argue, so we got the pup, the truck and a map. You’re going.” Tazz nodded to the door and started ushering her forward. Ace fell in on her other side.
“Now? You want me to go now?” she demanded staring up from one to the other in a mild panic.
“That’s right. Now,” Tazz muttered. “Look, I’m off. Kris is waiting for me, and you should go as well.”
Ace took her arm and practically man-handled her out of the banquet hall and into the parking lot.
“You two are nuts. Seriously.” She tugged until Ace stopped. “I’m not driving out tonight and freezing my butt off. I’m tired, I need a hot bath, a bed and some alone time, but thanks.”
“Go home, get a good night’s rest because you have a long drive tomorrow,” Ace said.
The soft woof of a dog stopped her in her tracks. Ace slapped her on the back with a grin and opened the SUV door. She should have remembered. She should have kept it firmly in place that Ace got his name for one reason and only one. He always had an Ace in the hole.
“We call her Blue, but that’s up to you,” Ace said, no doubt thinking he’d played his winning hand. “I’m positive you’ll love her.”
Life had just gotten complicated because Sonya didn’t do love. She steered as clear of that screwed up emotion as she did drinking and driving—meaning zero tolerance.
One glimpse into the wiggling, big bellied puppy’s eyes and she was caught, hook, line and sinker.